2004: To survive, thrive, LGU must appeal to youth

St. Andrews, Scotland

If you walk off the Old Course’s 18th green, past the Royal & Ancient Golf Club’s clubhouse and continue up a street called The Scores, you soon reach the offices of the Ladies’ Golf Union. The location of the LGU offices may be a mere matter of geography for some, but for many it is hugely symbolic.

Women’s golf in the British Isles always has lived in the shadow of the men’s game, and there is a danger the women could become inconsequential unless drastic action is taken.

The LGU, founded in 1893, is the governing body for women’s golf throughout Great Britain and Ireland. It represents the interests of 220,000 women at 2,750 clubs, and its mission statement is pretty straightforward.

“We are here to advance and safeguard the future of ladies’ golf,” says Andy Salmon, LGU secretary and chief executive officer.

The LGU, which has nine full-time employees, performs a number of functions. It is responsible for organizing amateur tournaments for girls, women, mid-amateurs and seniors, and the Women’s British Open for professionals; it runs or helps run international matches such as the Curtis Cup, Vagliano Trophy, World Amateur Team Championship and the Commonwealth Championship; it holds competitions for club golfers and is responsible for formulating the ladies’ scratch score (similar to a course rating) for courses throughout the British Isles. All of those events are regarded as successful.

But the LGU has not succeeded in growing the game, particularly among young girls. Salmon is only two years into his role, but is honest enough to admit that it is an uphill task.

“My great worry about the game is that while there are 220,000 ladies out there currently who are members of golf clubs in GB&I, their average age is probably at best late 50s, early 60s,” he says. “It doesn’t take a genius to work out that in 20 years they won’t be playing golf anymore. Unless we plug that gap in the 20-45 age group, unless we get people playing golf and enjoying golf in that category, then we are going to have a real big problem.”

Salmon has reason to be worried. There are only approximately 4,000 girls under age 18 who play golf in England.

Administrators in Great Britain and Ireland have done little over the years to try to attract youngsters to the game. Salmon says the LGU has contributed to that milieu.

“The LGU in the past has been as guilty as anybody, until recently, about being far too bothered (to preserve) the old traditions of the game,” Salmon says. “I think we have been too caught up in all that stuff. We have just taken our eye off the ball. Society is changing all the time, and golf isn’t changing as quickly. We just have to catch up with society.

“We are working on a couple of projects right now to have international mixed events because we think mixed golf is quite fundamental to the future health of the game. We feel it is important to make people realize that it is OK to play with your husband or your wife, or your brother or sister or mother or father, that there is nothing wrong with that.

“You don’t always have to play with people of your own gender, which has been the view in this country for too long.”

Salmon’s task is clear: Attract more young girls to the game, or the LGU may not have a future to advance and safeguard.

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